The Department of Health said it expects the new label to be in use by summer 2013

The Department of Health said it expects the new label to be in use by summer 2013

The UK government has announced it is recommending a standardised, hybrid approach to front-of-pack (FOP) nutritional labelling.

The labels outlined will incorporate a combination of guideline daily amounts (GDAs), colour coding and the words high, medium or low.

The Department of Health said it would work with industry and other partners to agree the details of the system and ensure there would be "consistent visuals" to show the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar, and calorie content of food products on the front of packs It said it expects the new label to be in use by summer 2013.

While nearly all the major supermarket chains already use a hybrid system, most food manufacturers have continued to use a system based solely on percentage of guideline daily amounts (GDAs). Following a three-month consultation, when retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders were asked for their views on FOP nutritional labelling, the Government has effectively ruled in favour of the retailers' position and against that held by the food industry.

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said: "The UK already has the largest number of products with front-of-pack labels in Europe but research has shown that consumers get confused by the wide variety of labels used. By having a consistent system we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake."

The decision suggests the Government has concluded following the consultation that specifically incorporating a colour-coding element will help in encouraging consumers to adopt healthier diets and reduce food-related illness and obesity.

The Minister continued: "Obesity and poor diet cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. Making small changes to our diet can have a big impact on our health and could stop us getting serious illnesses - such as heart disease - later in life."

A statement from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents food manufacturers, fell short of embracing the hybrid system the Government is looking to put in place but said it would engage in further discussions with the DH.

The FDF said: "The UK has led the way in developing approaches to front-of-pack labelling and FDF members have voluntarily provided this information for many years. Per portion %GDA information, which in many cases have been implemented consistently across Europe, helps consumers put the food they eat in the context of their overall diet. Our members are committed to continuing to provide clear nutrition information to consumers and we will be actively engaged in further discussions with the Department of Health following today's announcement."

In contrast, the announcement was welcomed by campaigners.

Charlie Powell, director of the Children's Food Campaign, said: "We are delighted that government has finally agreed to recommend front-of-pack traffic light labelling. You won't have to be a maths genius any more to work out which is the healthier product to buy."

Powell added the Government should "name and shame" food companies which delay in introducing traffic lights. "It has been clear for at least three years that this is a good way to help people choose healthier products, and companies now have no excuse not to commit to traffic light labelling," Powell said.